March 6, 2006

Sushi may be bad for health: California group

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Sushi is more popular than ever
before but eating it "has become the new Russian roulette" in
terms of safety, a group campaigning against mercury in fish
said on Monday.

Eli Saddler of, a campaign of
California-based Sea Turtle Restoration Project, went to six
top sushi restaurants in Los Angeles to test mercury levels in
the fish they serve.

"The level of mercury in tuna these restaurants serve is so
high they should be keeping this food off their lists," Saddler
said. "Eating sushi has become the new Russian roulette." proposes to take the study to various cities
across the United States and educate sushi consumers on the
risks of mercury intake, which can permanently damage the
nervous system in fetuses and may cause temporary memory loss
in adults.

Tuna samples from six popular sushi restaurants in Los
Angeles were taken to a Southern California lab for testing.

They returned an average mercury level of 0.721 parts per
million, about 88 percent higher than the reported Food and
Drug Administration level of 0.383 ppm for all fresh and frozen

A couple of samples had mercury levels the FDA has declared
"unsafe for anyone to eat," Saddler said.

Big-eyed tuna and blue and yellow-finned tuna are the most
popular varieties used in sushi restaurants. Older and bigger
fish are considered best suited for sushi but Saddler said it
was not widely known that fish with longer lives carry more
mercury than others.

Studies show seafood like shrimp and salmon with short life
spans pose almost no risk of carrying mercury.

Nobi Kusuhara, owner of Sushi Sasabune in Los Angeles said
even though the mercury level in the samples was higher than he
expected, sushi is still healthy to eat.

"Even in Japan we have warnings out like FDA has issued
here," Kusuhara said. "As long as restaurants warn pregnant
women and people to eat smaller fish, it is definitely safer
and healthier than beef or chicken."

Businesses with more than 10 employees are bound under
California law to post a mercury-in-seafood warning if they
serve or sell any seafood.

But Saddler said that, of the six restaurants checked, only
one had an explicit sign posted on the door.

"There are cheap and easy ways to test fish, so it should
be done in the United States to protect sushi consumers,"
Saddler said.